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JLeslie's avatar

What do you think about this lawsuit?

Asked by JLeslie (54570points) January 9th, 2017 from iPhone

I live in a retirement town of over 100,000 people. One perk in the area was a lifelong learning college. Very inexpensive fees and a variety of classes.

Recently, the college decided to close its doors after years of success, because a lawsuit was brought against the college stating it wasn’t meeting the needs of deaf people.

My experience in this community is people very much care about others in the community, and would want to accommodate when it’s at all possible. The overall system here is based on a tremendous amount of volunteering, all of the free classes in town (which are at recreation centers not the school) are led by volunteers. This for everything from Zumba, science lectures, discussion groups, sewing, musical instruments, the list goes on forever. The classes at the college were open to anyone, not only people who lived in town. ADA is taken very seriously here. Afterall, we are a town of primarily senior citizens.

My guess is interpreters did volunteer at times, maybe the school wasn’t always providing interpreters? I don’t know.

Is it reasonable for the deaf community to demand total accommodation for all classes available? Should the expense fall solely on the school, or on the deaf people? If the expense is on the school then fees for classes would have to increase.

What’s your take?

Here is a link to the school website so you can see some of the classes.

I had trouble finding the original articles on the topic, but I found commentary from one of the deaf people who participated in the suit, and a comment from someone who is frustrated with the suit.

I’m also interested to know if schools and colleges actually must provide accommodations for deaf people according to ADA?

I am suspicious that this was all part of the ADA lawyer scams going on all over the country. 60 Minutes recently did a report on it.

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32 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

The plaintiff – who has a legitimate point – is an ass. There was no need for a lawsuit.

I have sympathy for the 17,999 other people who were affected by this closure. The guy who runs the college didn’t have much choice after the suit was filed – if the plaintiff won, and specifically won damages – then the school would be out of business anyway.

The way I see it, Mr Schwartz (the plaintiff) was trying a bluff to get his point across. Except that it worked all too well.

My guess is that Mr Schwartz will be moving out of the Villages in the next month or two, because people will make his continued residency there very unpleasant.

JLeslie's avatar

@elbanditoroso If the plaintiff withdraws the suit then can the college open again?

Within The Villages there are deaf social groups that meet in the Rec centers and it’s really overall a very nice community for them. Regarding TV programming I saw a comment that The Villages channel isn’t closed captioned, but this town has 2–3 choices for “cable” TV at almost all homesites not including the satellite option in addition to that, so they can for sure get closed captioned on at least some stations.

I think it would be nice if we have sign interpreters for big events like Memorial Day, and even at some lectures when possible. Maybe they already do some of that? I’ll have to pay attention.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@JLeslie – no idea. If I were the guy who ran the college, I would want some pretty strong guarantees that he (and the college) won’t be harassed by additional lawsuits. Otherwise what’s the point of reopening?

To be clear, the idea of sign language interpreters is a good one and should be encouraged. And they should try hard to achieve that in the college.

But this lawsuit was way out of line.

JLeslie's avatar

@elbanditoroso I agree. A lot of people were upset the college didn’t fight, but I felt like pulling the plug altogether was the best route. Hopefully, in the end it will get sorted out and the school will open again.

Darth_Algar's avatar

Did this college provide reasonable accommodations for the deaf? Doesn’t sound like it. To me closing down at the first whiff of a lawsuit is an implicit admission that they knew they were in the wrong, knew they would not succeed in a court of law and decided to cut out of town with their profits while they still could.

JLeslie's avatar

@Darth_Algar I have no idea. It’s really just a make shift “college” that uses the high school property I think? Maybe there is an additional building too. I don’t think they called it quits immediately from what I understand. I guess I could look up the suit and see when it was filed.

BellaB's avatar

Why isn’t accommodation standard practice? here accommodation is required to the point of bankruptcy – it’s been the law for decades and no one seems to even blink at it – it’s a cost of doing business.

Looks like the college owner was taking advantage of people (using them as volunteer instructors). I’d feel more sympathetic if the college was a not-for profit organization.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@BellaB well, nobody cans “use” a person as a volunteer. It’s not like slave labor. People chose to volunteer. As @JLeslie said, the cost of classes was really low. To keep the costs low, other people need to pitch in, and it sounds like sometimes they did.

JLeslie's avatar

The “college” didn’t make any money. It was a non-profit. I’m sure the person/people who ran it received salaries, but I doubt they were high salaries. The teachers made very little, but they were paid a small amount. It’s very possible they paid nothing to use the facilities, or only what it would be to cover electricity, janitorial, etc.

In the recreation centers many of the same teachers give their lectures in an abbreviated way at discussion groups. The discussion groups they make nothing, that is completely voluntary, but only people who live inside The Villages and their guests can attend those groups. The rec centers and staff are paid for by our maintenance fees.

There are things about this community that you can see where the owners make a fortune, like owning a large majority of the commercial strip centers here, but at the same time you see where they could charge so much more for everything provided here. I pay $145 a month, plus a small additional fee, and I can play golf for free on 30 courses, I have access to 80 pools, three within a mile of me, all the groups and social clubs, tennis, pickleball ball, shuffle board bocce, basketball, baseball, and all those things I can go right up to the shed near the courts at each location and borrow the racket and balls and then just return them when I’m done if I don’t have my own.

There are very few places like this. You have to experience it to understand.

There is no malice or greed by the people who ran the college. I don’t think so anyway.

Darth_Algar's avatar

It’s appears this “college” was operated by the company that operates the Villages. As far as I can tell the Villages, FL is a private, gated retirement community. They certainly could have afforded to accommodate the deaf.

JLeslie's avatar

@Darth_Algar

Do you think they should provide interpreters for all classes? Do other schools have to do that? Is that part of the ADA rules? I’m just asking, I don’t know the answers.

All roads are public. You just push the bottom and the gate goes up.

Who says they wouldn’t accommodate within reason? I don’t know all the details. They accommodate people all of the time. I’m not going to assume anything. I pay $145 maintenance, my Inlaws pay $450 where they live and they aren’t a golf community, just to give you an idea of how they don’t gauge here. Not quite apples to apples because my inlaws include lawn care and basic cable, and they are a gated, manned gate, private community. We have people working a few of the gates during busy times to control traffic where there are a lot of golf carts crossing, but everyone is let through.

JLeslie's avatar

I just found a link with pricing and basic info from the inside the bubble site.

Here’s an article in the Orlando Sentinel about the suit. The article seems to lean towards supporting the suit brought by the deaf person. Note: the millions contributed by The Villages to the Charter schools (K-12) are public charter schools that were built to accommodate the employees of The Villages. You cannot live in The Villages if you are under age 20. If you work at least 20 hours in The Villages your child can go to school here. They are some of the best schools in the area. You don’t have to be an employee of the villages, you can work at the supermarket, fast food, anywhere on property.

I really think there can be a compromise that will make everyone happy.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@JLeslie

If the “college” was ran by the Villages school system, and the school system is a charter school then that means they’re receiving taxpayer funding. In which case, yeah, they absolutely should provide interpreters for their deaf students.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I’ve read the story, and it sounds as though this has been a long-running situation. It says the suit came after a long period of failed negotiations. We don’t know what those negotiations included or what support was offered from either side. You would think there could be a compromise, but obviously it hasn’t been found.

If you have people with disabilities within the community (and it’s almost certain you will have), you need to have strategies in place to ensure your materials/classes are accessible to all. The Villages News story suggests interpreters were not provided when required. Other strategies could have been to ensure there were transcripts of any lectures available for people who needed them or a PowerPoint with a transcript and an audio track for the visually challenged. However, for interactive classes, an interpreter would be essential.

While it seems unreasonable that everyone misses out because the situation couldn’t be resolved, I’m sure it is equally frustrating to have a disability and to constantly be excluded from activities because no or only minimal attempts are made to meet your needs. The residents who have a disability presumably pay the same rates for their homes. Why should they miss out?

We don’t really know enough about the attempts made by either side to resolve the situation, but I am 100% in support of providing activities that are accessible to all.

JLeslie's avatar

@Darth_Algar I don’t understand it that way. It seems to me the lifelong classes are using the charter school building. It’s not that the college directly uses public funds. In fact, the public funding is insufficient for everything provided by the school k-12 and The Villages donates millions as stated in the article. It’s a public school.

@Earthbound_Misfit I want the deaf accommodated also where reasonable. Mind you, thousands of people who live here pay for the golf courses, and don’t use them, and the swimming pools, and don’t use them, and I could go on. I wish my MIL could go to Spanish mass at the church here if she moves here, but the church here doesn’t have Spanish mass. I hope they come to some sort of compromise. If I were deaf I would want accommodations also, but I think it can be done without a lawsuit.

Do you think it was reasonable to sue for captioning? It’s just a local community tv station. I’ve never even watched it. I wonder how many stations like that have captioning? I see from the article the cost isn’t that huge, but still, I don’t think I agree with forcing stations to have this. There is a local daily paper and a recreation newspaper ever week. The Rec news is free. Plus there are free websites. There are plenty of avenues to get information.

Darth_Algar's avatar

I don’t care if you pay $5,000,000 and only take $5 in public funds. Once you take a single penny of taxpayer money, or utilize buildings or services that are funded with taxpayer money that’s it – you comply with federal law. No “ifs”, “ands” or “buts”.

JLeslie's avatar

^^You have to comply with federal and state law period. Private motels are getting sued because lawyers are using satellite to see which ones don’t have ADA equipment at their swimming pools and suing several every week. That was shown in the 60 Minutes piece. Another thing they showed was a convenience store being sued because the handicap space only had three extra feet instead of four (or whatever it was) but there was no parking spot beside it, so there was no problem getting out of a van that accommodates wheelchairs. A customer has never had a problem. All of a sudden a lawsuit. No courtesy of letting the owner know he was out of compliance, which practically speaking didn’t even matter, just straight to suing the guy. It’s a scam too often.

My question is, is there a federal law you have to have interpreters for the deaf?

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

Yes, I think it’s reasonable to sue if they have asked repeatedly and it’s not been provided. You can learn another language but you can’t get your hearing back or your sight or resolve other forms of disability. As to whether a lawsuit is required, that depends on whether anyone was really listening. There’s no evidence here to say they were or they weren’t. You need more info to judge.

And yes, local TV stations should have to provide captioning and given there is technology these days to help provide captioning, there’s no excuse not to. Does the local TV station receive public funding? Saying ‘it’s too expensive’ or ‘too hard’ just doesn’t cut it these days. I know if I don’t provide accessible materials, my institution can be sued and fair enough too. I agree with @Darth_Algar, providing accessible content is essential if there is public money involved. Why should certain elements of the community accept being excluded? Especially when it comes to education, we should be required to ensure people with disabilities have access.

jca's avatar

It sounds like from what is written above, the Villages uses the charter school building (maybe rents space in it) but doesn’t get their funding from public funds.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@jca

The college, the charter school and the community are all part of the same corporation.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I watched a program, I think it was 60 Minutes, and they said there are lawyers out there that do nothing but send in handicapped people into different establishments, looking for “non compliance,” so they can sue. It’s over really ridiculous things, too, but they win. They can find non compliance virtually everywhere.
I wonder how long before grocery stores can’t have shelves more than 4 feet high.

linguaphile's avatar

Okay.

Legally—the American with Disabilities Act requires companies to provide accommodations that give equal access to disabled individuals—and that includes qualified ASL interpreters. But, the Act also says that if the company or agency will face risk of closure, are too small to carry the weigh of interpreters, or can show that their income to expenditures ratio does not allow for the cost of interpreters, they are exempt from providing interpreters.

That means, if I go to a dentist office with 8 employees, I can’t expect that an ASL interpreter will be provided. If I go to a volunteer event, and that volunteer event does not have an operating budget, then they don’t have to provide interpreters. That’s one reason I can’t get an interpreter at the church of my choice. That’s also the reason I don’t demand interpreters from my daughter’s charter school.

Yes, I’m deaf and use ASL interpreters. I will tell you this—the world is not kind in regards to interpreter requests. I’m on my fifth year at the University of Colorado, pursuing a Master’s that should take TWO years, but because the University’s disability support service is so bad, I have had to swim through molasses to get a sneeze of service. I’ve had professors say the ugliest and most unacceptable things that they would be absolutely fired for saying to a person of color, a Muslim, or a gay student. But, I’m “disabled” so they can get away with much more. So, yes, there is a long history of an ongoing, and sometimes daily fight to get access. It is a given if I want to deal with any agency from doctors to conferences to ticketing services (6 months of back and forth and still didn’t get an interpreter for an OMD/Howard Jones concert, even though their site said access would be provided- I’m still a tad annoyed by that).

In short, my complaints carry a small fraction of the push that other minorities have. They see deaf people functioning perfectly fine 95% of the time then ask, “What’s the problem here?” The problem is… I’d like to be in the world and enjoy things to a reasonable fraction that everyone else does. The best interpreters only give 65% of the whole. For most of my daily life, I don’t need help with access- I drive, shop, work, pound on the keyboard, all that just fine. But when I need a detailed description of an upcoming surgery, I dang well want the same information others would get.

(To add to that… people think cochlear implants are the solve-all answer. News flash, they aren’t. That’s a topic for another thread.)

Back to The Villages… I’m very familiar with the Villages. It’s considered the place for affluent retired Deaf people to go… nationwide, the average gross income of deaf and hard of hearing people is the lowest of all employable populations so the deaf folks at The Villages are for our “1%”

IF…. the College at the Villages could not afford interpreters… they had legal avenues to bypass providing interpreters. If they were truly as volunteer based as they say, then they weren’t legally required to provide interpreters. They wouldn’t have to close.

I suspect that the problem is that the College was sponsored, in part, by the larger Villages corporation and had a small budget provided by the main corporate. The Villages has a huge operating budget—they have money to maintain their landscaping, their private lake, maintenance of the buildings, golf course, and roads… The Village’s larger operating budget could easily have paid for the interpreters, but I suspect that the corporate would not increase their contribution to the College’s budget. Because the interpreters could have been paid for by the corporate, the College lost the lawsuit. If my guess is correct, because this is not an uncommon scenario, then the Corporate is, really, throwing the deaf people and the College under the bus. Either way, I know for sure the larger community isn’t getting all the information- they need a scapegoat.

Now, do I support the actions of the deaf people to sue? I don’t know enough about the situation. If they had made many requests, then yes, they may have felt that a lawsuit was their last resort. Should they have made suggestions? Maybe they did. The articles don’t say enough and the grapevine isn’t reliable.

Do I think deaf people should have to fundraise for their services? I will agree to that when everyone else has to fundraise for elevators. With that—I close with this: equal is not always fair.

(By the way, Louis Schwartz is quite a small celebrity in our community. He owns his own financing and investment company. I doubt he would pull a frivolous lawsuit)

linguaphile's avatar

About the public funds mentioned by @Earthbound_Misfit and @Darth_Algar, they’re accurate. If any public funds are received, they fall under a different law from 1974 and are required to provide accommodations.

What I said about “exempt statuses” only applies only to private corporates, like The Villages.

@JLeslie You asked: “Do you think they should provide interpreters for all classes? Do other schools have to do that? Is that part of the ADA rules?” The answer is no—deaf people must make requests for interpreters quite ahead of time only for the classes/services they need. Blanket services are only used for emergency broadcasts.

JLeslie's avatar

@linguaphile Thank you so much! I agree we don’t have enough detailed information. Through the grapevine I heard they closed the college before the case went to court, but you might e right that they lost. I don’t know anything for sure.

Do you know how much interpreters are paid? I’m just curious what the actual expense would be.

I hate to think The Villages just flat out said no way we won’t do anything. Maybe they did? So much of The Villages is based on volunteerism and low wages. So much here is just residents themselves organizing things, and The Villages just provides the shelter, buildings, fields, etc.

What if the entity running the college is private, and they are just renting space, or given space, in a public building? Then I don’t see how that is receiving public funds? I don’t think it matters in this case probably, because like I said there is a certain amount of compliance with ADA for any business open to the public.

I once met a women who is an interpreter for a cruise line. I think the ship provides her service free of charge when a deaf person requests her services. Sounds like good job.

linguaphile's avatar

@JLeslie I’m thinking… if the college was a private entity using public property to provide volunteer led lessons for residents supported by a private corporate, then that would be crazy complicated. It would be easy for the college to try to pass the buck to the corporate and vice versa. It could be that the whole thing became too much for the small number of coordinators to handle, considering that they were up against a corporate and lawyers.

Interpreters are paid anywhere from $15/hour to $150/hour. That’s a large range, yeah, and it depends on their skill level, the event/task, their certifications/training, and location. Those people you see on emergency broadcasts are probably getting $60/hour. I have a serious issue with interpreters over-charging… it cuts into the number of doctors or providers that are willing to work with deaf people. We’re still working out that balance in our community.

I am sure there are retired interpreters at The Villages that would have been happy to work for $10—$15/hour, which makes me wonder what the issue was. Did Louis ask for top-level interpreters for a baking class, or did the college balk at paying for an interpreter? Did they disagree on what “qualified” meant? It does sound like there was a back and forth of some kind. That, like we agree, is something we don’t know. I’m glad you asked your question though—great question!

I’ve heard of cruise line interpreters—those folks are lucky! Free cruises and just interpret a few venues. Sign me up :D :D

JLeslie's avatar

@linguaphile At the life long learning college the teachers are paid a very small amount from what I understand. At the rec centers it’s all volunteer. If they tried to sue for interpreters at the rec centers it could destroy the entire premise of how this place functions.

I’d hope the deaf person who brought suit wasn’t demanding some sort of specific interpreter qualification. That seems really over the top for classes here.

I’m assuming deaf adults tend to cluster near each other. Would you agree with that? I wonder how difficult it is to hire interpreters near here? The Villages is a bubble sort of in the middle of nothing. Ocala is the nearest city. Orlando, Gainesville, and Tampa are far for a commute.

linguaphile's avatar

@JLeslie My husband just said he can ask Louis directly- they know each other!! I’ll let you know what I can find.

Deaf people do generally prefer urban areas for communication and social access, but there are also deaf people living in the backwoods, happy with their hunting dogs and internet.

linguaphile's avatar

Hi again… just found this.. They’ve been at it for a while.

JLeslie's avatar

@linguaphile Small world.

I didn’t mean to imply all deaf people live in one place or are all alike. I hope it didn’t come across that way.

It’s also worth stating that in The Villages there are many people with impaired hearing who don’t sign, because their hearing loss was late in life. This makes me wonder (off topic) how common is it for people who lose their hearing in adulthood to learn sign language? My assumption is it’s not common, but if I lost my hearing I think I would want to learn. I’d love to know sign language now, but I like languages in general.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

Reasonable…........................if an accommodation is very expensive and the outfit is staffed by volunteers providing free classes, I don’t see the correctness of forcing them to accommodate.

linguaphile's avatar

@JLeslie You didn’t come across that way—just was responding with information about where Deaf people usually congregate. Hope I didn’t come across as corrective as well!

You’re right, it’s not common for late-in-life-deafened adults to learn sign language. They are very different than people who have lived their whole lives as deaf. For me, it’s my reality and part of my identity as much as being a short fluffy female. I’m never going to be hearing, tall, lithe, or male. I’ve lived with being deaf for 42 years—no biggie for me, and I definitely don’t want to change.

For late-in-life-deafened adults, it is profoundly different. Their whole world is impacted- their functioning capabilities, social circles, interactions with family. They lose that automaticity that comes with living in your own skin. At an older age, it’s more difficult to adopt new habits. They usually try to get back what they know through hearing aids and cochlear implants. I’m completely in support of that because that’s how they lived their whole lives. But, if they were to learn some basic sign language along with people around them—that WOULD help.

You don’t have to wait to lose your hearing to learn sign language :D

JLeslie's avatar

@linguaphile You didn’t come across as corrective at all, I felt like it was just a normal interaction, but I just wanted to be sure.

I wish I knew some basics in sign language. I know quite a bit of the alphabet still (I learned it when I was a kid) but I wish I knew thank you, and how are you, can I help you, and little things like that. I think I’m going to make it a point to learn those. Whenever I come across someone who uses sign language I wish I could speak their language for the niceties. Although, I’m sure they understand thank you by reading lips, and my smile and nod anyway. When I was little I used to play with deaf sisters. They were the grandchildren of my grandmother’s friend. I remember not really understanding they couldn’t hear. I was very young.

My grandfather was somewhat hard of hearing, so we needed to be in front of him and speak up when we talked to him. He read lips quite well actually. His accomplishment with language was very impressive considering English was a second language he learned as a teenager when he came here, already not hearing well.

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